The lesson of Ireland’s craft leash

The lesson of Ireland’s craft leash

The Irish and Northern Irish market provides valuable lessons about how suppliers should be supporting their customers and the importance of localisation. Dan Christmas, marketing manager at Simply Hops, reports from the Emerald Isle.

What does it mean to be upheld and protected within craft brewing? Not only for it to continue, but to grow and flourish? We’ve been considering it a lot at Simply Hops. The genie is out of the bottle now, and hopefully, craft will be around forever. We have to ask these questions to make sure that as much as possible, our own business reflects the ideals of craft and supports it into the future. It is something all suppliers should be asking themselves.

One of the cornerstones of craft brewing is localisation: a brewery’s ability to bring beer styles from all over the world and make it available to the local community. It plays a massive part in the building of a brewery’s sales from its inception and continues to be part of a brand’s customer foundation as it grows beyond its own postcode. It is an essential part of the culture and tone of the craft community.

On the ground
People buy from people. It is said many times, but in our experience, it holds truer than ever in the craft brewing world. At Simply Hops, for example, we are making sure that across the UK, Europe and Scandinavia, we have people on the ground working with local heroes to help get the best understanding of customers’ needs. We’ve recently started working with Get Er Brewed in Northern Ireland for precisely this reason. In Ireland more than anywhere, craft brewers are struggling to build a strong local base. Looking at the Irish craft market gives us an excellent insight as to why localisation is so important.

Reliable numbers are never easy to get hold of. In the US, craft beer is often said to make up around 15–16% of the market. In the UK it’s been estimated at approximately 5% but still growing. In the rest of Europe, it can vary from country to country, but the overall picture is towards growth and the taking of a larger share of the market. In the whole of Ireland however, estimates are that craft beer accounts for around 3% of the total market, and growth is slow.

Nonetheless, when you speak to the people involved in the independent craft brewing industry across Ireland, you still witness all of the passion and dedication you get elsewhere. They see themselves as part of a more significant community and work in the same collaborative way that is expected among craft brewers. Their beer is just as thoughtfully crafted and offers the same quality and excitement to their customers. So why is the market not responding in the same way as many other places?

Jonathan and Deborah Mitchell run Get Er Brewed, based in Randalstown in Northern Ireland.

They have grown from supplying home-brew and wine kits to now being a major distributor to the craft breweries across Ireland, working with Simply Hops, Crisp Malt and Lallemand Yeasts. They have been concentrating recently on ensuring they are able to provide the best quality ingredients to their customers. They are ambitious, but the lack of growth in the market is seen as both unnecessary and frustrating. Jonathan says, “I love Irish craft brewing. The brewers I meet daily are really killing it when it comes to passion, quality and innovation. There are some things we need to catch up on here in Ireland though, that will see the craft beer market bloom. When I go to the mainland UK, and throughout Europe, I see breweries bringing in locals to their taprooms and bars. The locals love having something that is new, exciting and most importantly ‘theirs’ right on their doorstep. They are able to interact with the brewers and staff in a way they never can with large scale breweries. It creates both passion and loyalty in the consumer, making them the perfect ambassador for the breweries as they spread the craft word to
their friends.

“It also gives the brewery a financial boost as they are able to shift some of their volume through a short supply chain and protect their margin.”
Deborah adds, “It’s all about real interactions no matter who your customer is. We have built our business on face-to-face communication. We have become our own brand that naturally incorporates all of the values we uphold in our business. The same holds true for the breweries.”

Jonathan continues, “Licensing makes running something like a tap-room or pop-up event very time consuming or expensive. The costs of the licenses in Ireland can be eye-watering, which makes setting up a tap-room a non-starter. It makes doing these kinds of things difficult and certainly means that anything spontaneous is out of the question. The result is that brewers can lose a potent marketing tool. With so much passion and energy in Irish craft brewing you can almost feel the market straining against its restraints. It’s ready to go!”

Mal McKay is energetic and smiles easily. It gives away his love of what he does. He also sees his local market as key to his future success. Mal has just finished building his new brewery on his family’s farm (former home of the poet Seamus Heaney) and is about to begin brewing his craft beers sold under the Heaney brand.

As soon as he starts speaking to us, it’s clear that he plans to overcome any obstacles in his way. His opening sentence is possibly tongue-in-cheek, but you get the sense he means it. “Anybody that hasn’t heard of us yet soon will.

“This has all come about from a love of beer, and me and friends homebrewing to make clones of the beers we love. It just went a bit too far one night when I said to my wife I wanted to put a brewery in at the farm. ‘Wise up,’ she said, which I did for a while. Then I went a bit mental and decided to do it anyway.

“To begin with, we’re going to focus on some good everyday, everyman beers. I think a good brewery needs to be able to offer a good core range. I have some great ideas for some big recipes down the line though. The biggest threat to me here is getting the local consumer to understand that they should be buying proper beer. We should be supporting local brewers whenever possible, and that means drinkers, the publicans, the staff in the pubs, the hotels, the restaurants and the independent off-sales. They keep saying there’s no demand for the craft beer. But how can there be a demand for it in your pub if you don’t have it in your pub? I guarantee if you put it in your pub, people will buy it.”

O Brother Brewing in Kilcoole in Ireland is busy. The radio is loud, the keg filler is being operated at full-tilt and space is very much at a premium. It’s a similar scene that you get from many craft breweries: fast-paced and hard-working, designed to turn out premium beer.

Barry O’Neill, one of the three founding brothers nonetheless finds time to speak to us about his view of the future. “We set up in the back-end of 2014. We used to work part-time in our uncle’s off-licence. We got a reputation for turning up to parties with weird and exotic beers from all over the place, and it started a love of beer. We became passionate homebrewers then outgrew our dad’s garage so made the leap from very diverse careers to brewers.

“We spent about three years getting the brewery together before we eventually got going here in Kilcoole. We wanted to brew what we feel is lacking in the Irish market, which is big hoppy beers in the American style. We wanted to put Irish beers on the map. In 2011, when we first started looking at this, there were very few breweries that were not playing it safe. Now though, there are loads of Irish brewers doing really great things.

“With regards to the future we are looking at the growth of the market, or rather the lack of it. I think it’s going to be hard yards to keep making in-roads in the market now. I feel this especially when we hear our consumers saying ‘I got the new craft beer from brewery X’ and I know that that particular brewery brews our entire annual production eight times every day.

“We have to educate the consumer about the difference between a brewery like this, where we have four people grinding it out every day because they love what they do. It makes it hard for us to get into the bars and pubs and to get taps for the people to try out beer. If we can get more locals involved with us, it helps us get that message out.”

Finally, we spoke to Bill Laukitis, Head Brewer at Rye River Brewing Company in Kildare just outside of Dublin. Rye River could not be described as a small brewery by any means, with an output that far exceeds that of many of the other breweries we spoke to. They are just opening a new taproom and have excellent distribution through a number of sales channels across different brands. You would expect then that Bill’s viewpoint might be slightly different. But he is clearly an independent brewer who has a love of craft within him. He speaks proudly of ‘his’ Irish brewhouse and the beer they make.

“This is the first brewhouse manufactured in Ireland for over 100 years. We wanted to bring this type of engineering back to Ireland, so we linked up with a local engineering company, and the kit is working pretty well. We’re on course to brew 28 times on the 25HL system this week. We’re pretty proud of the beers we make here: 25 core beers and 30 unique special recipe beers last year. It keeps us very busy.”

“Craft brewing is a community and back where I grew up in the States it’s a lot easier for a brewery to open up its doors and let everybody in; somewhere to share their beers and get to know each other. I think making it easier for breweries to do that would help a lot in the future. It would also help with tourism. A lot of people visit Ireland to try beer. There is a famous beer or two that people come for, but it would be great if it were just as easy for them to visit the great craft breweries in the country.”

It’s quite clear then that all of the ingredients for the growth of the craft market are there. The passion and skill are poised waiting. Irish brewers are doing all they can, but what the Irish market shows us is that connection to your local market is critical for a prosperous future. It is that interaction combined with the brewing and the beer that grows the market, and at Simply Hops, we are hoping to see all of the brewers across Europe build ever stronger support bases. Legislation and licensing changes are a big part of this. Our support as a supplier is as well, and we plan to do
all we can to help.


Mix master and the art of iteration

Mix master and the art of iteration

Ben Rymer of Minibrew, an all-in-one brewing machine designed for brewers to experiment, looks at how the ‘version’ is always the most essential mix. Here, Ben delves into the roots of dub to demonstrate how the latest version is just part of the set.

When Black Ark Studios burnt to the ground in Jamaica in 1979, a dynasty came to a close. The studio, where Lee Perry – ‘the Upsetter’ – produced all the reggae greats such as Bob Marley, The Congos, Max Romeo, and an endless array of breathtaking talent, went up in a puff of smoke. Black Ark had a more profound legacy than the records that came out of the heady mix of simple technology and the mind of a genius. Mr Perry had used his time to pioneer dub, alongside Osborne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock and a select few of Jamaica’s finest studio producer greats. Where previously the producer was a name in the middle of a 7-inch single, known only to the trainspotter, the rise of dub gave birth to the producer as an artist in his own right.  Suddenly the collector would look at this name first, no need to listen. What was responsible for this sea change? It was the idea of embracing different versions.

Technology had enabled the Upsetter to tweak endlessly. With that realisation came the natural step to release multiple vocalists, and then came the dub version. An experimental form where the producer had time and space to play endlessly. From that came the dub, an almost freeform, live take. And thus was born the 12-inch single. For years the reggae sound system would play back-to-back singles, with the dub on the B-side, the 12-inch was merely an extension.

Never at any point within reggae culture had anyone thought to release the most commercial version. Record pressing was focused on the local systems. Dubplates, the acetate disc, became prevalent, with exclusive versions cut for particular DJs; one-off vocal takes, with shout-outs to the system in battle. If anything, reggae cultures idea that the perfect version was a one-off single pressing. Versions of the same track weren’t released for profit; they were merely an expression of the producer and vocalists synergy. In fact, when a certain Chris Blackwell appeared from the UK and whisked Mr Marley away to the UK to record his widely selling commercial hit records, Lee Perry called him ‘the white devil’.

The advent of software development leads to versioning in a different build. Multiple versions will exist in the life cycle of a program, and eventually, somebody within the business department will deem the software ready for release. This is often followed by an immediate fix the day after as multiple errors are found. There is never really a perfect version of the software. The idea of something being the best version is ascribed to it afterwards by the spotters. The creators will never really want to finish the process. There can always be improvements, whether it’s a heavier bass or a more agile build. The version has become a dream for the marketers. Wider screen, faster processor, vinyl-only remix, any excuse to sell you the same thing twice. 

There are however a few exceptions. Mario Kart on the N64. And yet it could be the SNES version. Or maybe the Gamecube. It’s not the end result that ever defines these things or the features. It’s when you played it. Who with. Where.

There is no best version. Tina Turner was a liar. How could there be? Nobody who creates would ever declare a particular expression the best. It’s simply not part of the process. These meanings always come from other people. The marketing department loves to declare it’s the best yet. Guaranteed the engineers, programmers and artists loathe this sentence. Lee Perry’s reverberations move endlessly through the musical landscape. He didn’t plan this; there wasn’t a release schedule. What started as a collection of rudimentary equipment in a shed in his garden in Kingston, Jamaica became the Black Ark Studio through the mind of a genius. Today the 82-year-old version of Lee Perry is playing in Brixton in 2019. Mr Perry never stopped to think about his best version; he would undoubtedly scoff at the concept. He may have helped invent the version, but he never stops refining.

Magic Rock acquired by Lion

INTERVIEW: Magic Rock acquired by Lion

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Magic Rock acquired by Lion

In an interview with Pete Brown, Magic Rock’s founder Richard Burhouse explains the take over

It was announced today that Magic Rock had become the latest British craft brewer to sell to a large international brewing concern. Australian-based food and beverage company Lion acquired London’s Fourpure in a similar deal last year, and also operate Australian craft beer brands including Little Creatures. In turn, Lion Australia is part of the Lion Group, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kirin Holdings, a global, multi-industry food and beverages company headquartered in Tokyo.

Richard Burhouse, who founded Magic Rock in 2011 along with head brewer Stuart Ross, will remain in charge of the company and describes the move as fuelling ‘a shared promise to keep making great beer, on a bigger scale’. The brewery has a cult following among craft beer fans and is the winner of a great many awards. Burhouse describes the acquisition as ‘the best way for us to build on this legacy over the long term is to introduce Magic Rock beers to a much wider audience’.

While rumours of the buyout have been circulating on social media for days, the staff of Magic Rock were only informed of the move today, so it remains unclear whether there will be many changes in its 45-strong workforce, but in an interview Burhouse argued that the staff and the local community of Huddersfield were key factors in the decision.

“The brand we’ve created is a bit of a monster — it’s been really successful and now we need to step up to the next level, and I simply don’t have the skills on my own to do what’s required next. We’ve been approached by a few people over the last few years and none of them felt like the right fit. Lion did — they feel right for our shareholders and for our staff. We need a new brew system, new capacity, more space, and it’s not often that this kind of investment comes into Huddersfield.’

Coming less than a year after Lion’s acquisition of Fourpure, Lion’s Global Markets managing director, Matt Tapper, and regional director for the UK, Toby Knowles, didn’t rule out further acquisitions.

‘There aren’t that many brewers that have the X-Factor Magic Rock have,’ said Knowles.

‘Today we’re just enjoying this relationship,’ said Tapper. ‘We’re enjoying working with Fourpure and we’re opening a Little Creatures microbrewery in King’s Cross soon. But we’ll keep our eyes and ears to the ground and see how things progress.’

Pete Brown

Fourpure Brewing Co acquired by Lion


 Australian beer company Lion has acquired 100% of Fourpure Brewing Co


Lion has a long history of investing in great businesses and empowering them to keep doing what they do best, while giving them the financial and strategic support to get their products to more people.

Fourpure Co-founder and CEO Daniel Lowe said: “Over the past 12 months we’ve been working hard to find the right investment path for the next phase of the Fourpure story.  While in four short years Fourpure has grown to become one of London’s leading independent modern craft brewers, we knew we couldn’t take the next adventure alone.  We met Lion towards the end of our process after a wide range of funding options had been considered, and quickly realised we had a shared vision and values.”

“It was clear from the very first meeting that Matt and the Lion team understand the needs of a craft brewery and share our aspirations for quality and sustainability. Lion’s past investments in craft breweries in Australia and New Zealand, including Little Creatures, have always respected the beer and the people.”

Lion is already active in the UK and Europe, selling a range of Australian and New Zealand craft beers and fine wines from the US and New Zealand. In time, there will be an opportunity to look at how both businesses’ sales and distribution channels can be used to reach more drinkers, not only in the UK but also in Europe and global markets where both businesses are already growing.   Daniel Lowe remains CEO with co-founder and brother, Tom Lowe also staying on with Fourpure.

Lion Global Markets Managing Director Matt Tapper said: “Lion has a long and proud history in craft beer in Australia and New Zealand and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to back Dan, Tom and the team to take Fourpure into its next chapter. The guys have done a superb job in getting the business to where it is now and we love how innovative they’ve been in both beer styles and the way they have positioned the brand. We’re making real progress in making our craft beers like Little Creatures available in the UK and Europe and we see some great opportunities to work together to get these and Fourpure’s brews in the hands of more beer lovers.”

Fourpure is known for its approachable styles and flagship beers like its World Beer Cup medal-winning Pils Lager and popular Session IPA. Founded in 2013 by brothers Daniel and Thomas Lowe, Fourpure’s brewery and hospitality venue is part of the renowned ‘Bermondsey Beer Mile’ craft brewing hub in South East London. The modern UK Craft market is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing globally in volume terms. It currently represents around 5% volume share of craft beer.

The commercial details of the transaction are confidential.

Read Original Gravity% Issue 15 for free here

Do you know where you are, do you know where you’re from, do you know where you are going? Three vital questions that people ask themselves time and time again as life rolls on, but when it comes to beer this triumvirate of brain-teasers is often forgotten. Beer can be made anywhere, it doesn’t matter if the beer that was born in that town is now made in that town 100 miles away. On the other hand there’s almost a mystical connection between a beer and its sense of place, which, let’s be honest, isn’t always essential to the beer (a recent conversation with one of this issue’s contributors Boak and Bailey about the excellent quality of Young’s Ordinary, which has long  gone from its London home, springs to mind), but it’s this mysticism, this sense of the other, this sense of beer being like an oak with its long tendrils of roots glued to the very earth where a tiny acorn once fell, is what our writers have tried to convey in this issue.

Roger Protz has done a Michael Parkinson and interviewed an IPA (born in London and grew up in Burton); Pete Brown argues that beer does have a sense of place and also visits a brewery with its roots and beers firmly in the west Flemish countryside; Daniel Neilson rhapsodies over Wiper and True’s English Saison, which is also reviewed elsewhere; Emma Inch visits Brighton FC and drinks Harvey’s Sussex Bitter, perhaps the first beer that springs to mind when the South Downs hoves into view.

Elsewhere, Jessica Mason remembers her early exposure to the pub, and Copenhagen inspires its own sense of place. Beer meets wine, barley wine goes beneath the microscope and we’ve got some cool beers reviewed to whet your thirst. Oh and a little bit of news — November 13 sees the launch of our new website, which will feature exclusive stories and features that won’t be in the printed edition and there’s a regular monthly newsletter, which I would highly recommend you sign up for, so mark 13/11 in your diary!

Chin chin

Adrian Tierney-Jones, Editor